CHAMPIONS LEAGUE qualifying continues on Tuesday night. Here Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.
Nice v Napoli | Tuesday 22nd August 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Before the first leg of this Champions League play-off tie, I suggested Napoli and Sevilla could come unstuck in tricky ties. The pair were yet to play competitively in 2017/18 and were coming up against sides already two games deep in domestic action.
Sevilla survived atrocious conditions in Istanbul to secure a superb 2-1 triumph whilst Napoli were simply outstanding in their 2-0 win over Nice at the Sao Paulo. Mauricio Sarri’s side dominated all aspects of the game and arguably should have managed a wider-margin victory.
Expected Goals data had the Partenopei down for a 4.34 – 0.58 supremacy as they fired in 14 shots from inside the penalty area. Napoli then followed it up another eye-catching display away at Verona, winning 3-1 whilst dominating the performance data once more.
Considering Serie A clubs have traditionally struggled at this stage of the competition – just one of the past seven Italian sides have successfully negotiated their passage from this point to the group-stage – the Partenopei look well set to seal qualification and the pressure should have eased.
Nice ousted Ajax on away goals in the previous round and although back-to-back Ligue 1 losses were a touch unjust, they were distinctly second-best in a disappointing performance in Italy. Nevertheless, Lucien Favre’s men picked up an overdue success against Guingamp on Saturday and are keen to at least put on a show for home supporters at the Allianz Riviera.
Exciting new signing Allan Saint-Maximin was rested at the weekend and with Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder both making their first appearances of 2017/18, Les Aiglons do have the tools to hurt most opposition defences. But Alassane Plea and Vincent Koziello’s suspensions are far from ideal.
Meanwhile, midfield star Jean Michaël Seri has been included in the squad but with rumours that Barcelona have met his £36 million release clause, it remains to be seen whether he will feature here.
With or without Seri, Nice will need to push forward to stand any chance of reaching the group-stages and that could spell trouble. Napoli may have only W4-D2-L6 in their past 12 Champions League away days but they’ve managed to get on the scoresheet in 11 of those contests with nine seeing Over 2.5 Goals.
I fully expect the visitors to grab a goal and Dries Mertens is the obvious candidate to get it. The Belgian blasted 33 goals in 2016/17, including five from eight Champions League appearances; he could (and should) have had more than one from the first leg and he’s well worth backing at 13/10 (Unibet) to score again.
Maribor v Hapoel Be’er Sheva | Tuesday 22nd August 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Hapoel Be’er Sheva fell behind 10 minutes into the first leg but bossed possession throughout and eventually found the goals their dominance deserved, turning the tie on its head to complete a 2-1 triumph.
Despite conceding an away goal, Hapoel should be capable of negotiating the return contest in Slovenia. The visitors have also knocked out Hoved and Ludogorets and last season ousted Olympiakos before Celtic beat the Israeli champions at this stage.
Be’er Sheva have scored in all five of their Champions League matches this term and should that trend continue on Tuesday, supporting the guests with a +0 Asian Handicap at 39/40 (Unibet) looks worthwhile. We’d see our stake returned if the game ends all-square.
Maribor struggled to beat Zrinjski and FH in the earlier qualifiers and haven’t managed more than a solitary strike at home in the Champions League since 2014.
Games in Slovenia do tend to be tight – their past 13 in this competition have featured fewer than three goals – but with the hosts pushing for a route back into the contest, I think free-scoring Hapoel could pinch a goal that should seal their progress.